Morgen, an interview with Steve Morgen
Native New Yorker Steve Morgen and the band which bore his surname recorded and released arguably the best heavy psychedelic rock album to come out of the United States in the late 1960s as well as a powerhouse single taken from the LP. Steve was kind enough to share the tale of his musical adventures with It’s Psychedelic Baby readers recently. The story, in Steve’s own words, follows.
The musical (mis)adventures of Steve Morgen as told to It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine
When and where were you born Steve?
I was born in Brooklyn New York somewhat more than a half-century ago.
How old were you when you began playing music and what was the first instrument you played?
I believe when I was about 6 years old, I was given a choice between a flashy colored accordion and a drum set. I chose the drums. It apparently drove my parents over the edge and so a foot was put through the bass drum and then the entire set was discarded shortly thereafter. I would note that my first instrument was actually my voice. I sang all the time. I would listen to records and radio and watch TV; then sing the songs that I heard; i.e. “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” (Patti Page), “Davy Crockett” (Fess Parker), “Your Cheating Heart,” which I sang at my sister’s wedding when I was 7 (Frankie Lane), “I Never Felt More like Singing the Blues” (Guy Mitchell), “I Love Paris” (Doris Day), “That’s Amore” (Dean Martin), “Slow Boat to China” (Eddie Howard) to name a few. My folks were really into Perry Como and Julius La Rosa and I liked them a lot as well. I also liked Nat King Cole. I actually got to see and hear him play piano one night when my folks took me to a restaurant called Lundy’s on the water in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn. I got kicked out of grade school music class while learning to play trumpet (my folks weren’t too happy with that instrument either). I taught myself to play the guitar and piano during my teens. I attended PS 197 in Brooklyn and while in 3rd grade I was given the opportunity to perform in front of the school, grades 1-8. The song I sang was “Slow Boat to China.” We moved from Brooklyn to Long Beach Long Island when I was ten. While attending East School, assemblies were actually held so that I could perform. On one of those separate occasions I sang calypso songs including “The Banana Boat Song” (Harry Belafonte) and on the other I imitated (the whole shebang – hips and all) and sang “Don’t Be Cruel”; can’t seem to remember who sang that song. I was accompanied on guitar by a guy who may or may not have been Leslie West. I just remember that he was quite good and his first name was Leslie.
What inspired you to start playing music? Do you recall the first song you ever learned to play?
My inspirations came from artists on records, radio and TV. As I said I sang all the time. Sometimes it would get me in trouble, singing during classes.
In Brooklyn my sister Arlene played the baby grand piano in the living room. She was a fine classical pianist, but sometimes she would play Boogie-woogie and I could never get enough. Growing up in Brooklyn I used to play a lot of stickball on 19th St. and against the brick schoolyard walls of public school PS 197. Now why would I mention this? I used to play my sister’s record, “Orpheus in the Underworld,” to inspire me before I went down to play ball. Listening to that music was magical for me. It kind of took me to another place, made me believe I could do anything I put my mind to (“The Can Can interlude”).
What bands were you a member of as a youth and what types of music did you play? Who were some of the artists you shared the stage with?
In my high school years I formed a folk singing group called the Village 4. We performed during the summers at the many beach clubs in Lido Beach, Long Island- (the Malibu, the Colony, the Sands etc.). With the popularity of artists like Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary folk music was becoming hip and folk music acts were inserted into rock programs. The Village 4 performed with the likes of Leslie Gore, The Capris (“There’s a Moon out Tonight”), Bobby Sox and the Blue Jeans (“Zippity Do Da”) etc. I would also perform solo at the high school swing shows where I sang songs like “Story of Love” etc.
When did you begin writing music? What was the first song you wrote? What inspired it and did you ever perform the song live or record it?
I actually wrote my first song while riding in the car with my parents on a trip from New York to Boston. The song was called “Linda G”; I guess it was pop rock: I actually remember some of the lyrics…
“Who’s that girl that can rock ‘n roll/who’s that girl that can bop and stroll who’s that girl that can hug so tight that’s my girl that’s her all right. Linda G 0h, oh oh Linda G…”
The first song that I wrote and performed was called “Heave Away.” I performed it with the Village 4; don’t remember the lyrics, but I do remember the melody, wasn’t bad. The song was performed with the rock acts mentioned previously. The Village 4 did stuff like “Blowing in The Wind” (Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary), The Big 3 (“I May Be Right”), Kingston Trio songs etc. The group had three singers of which there were two guitar players: me and David Fersch and a banjo and guitar player, Fred Chalfy. The fourth member was Jay, a standup bass player.
What label did you sign your first recording contract with? What songs, if any, did you record? Were any of these songs released?
My first recording contract was with RCA records. I remember getting a call at home from a guy who had seen me perform. He arranged an audition for me at RCA records and I was offered a contract. I was told that I would be able to record some of my own songs. At the first session I was going to do one of their songs and one of mine. It turned out that I was to do two of their songs. I walked out; didn’t return. In retrospect, it was not a great idea. After RCA I had an offer from a manager by the name of Bruce Sellig. He paid for me to do a number of my songs at a studio in Brooklyn. I remember the name of one of the songs. It was called “April”. I wrote it after meeting this incredible girl named April at the infamous Steve Paul’s Scene on 46th and 8th Ave. in Manhattan. Strangely enough while walking in the city one night with a couple of girls, Bruce and I had just met, we were attacked by a group of rednecks. I remember that I held my own (tough-ass street guy that I was), but Bruce didn’t fight back and he got hurt. It was about survival and protecting the two girls we were with. Bruce and I pretty much parted ways after that. Our parting was going to happen anyway as he wasn’t really very together.
“Playing with these guys inspired me to go to new musical places.”
How did the band which bore your name come to be? Who were the members of the band?
While playing ball at college it turned out that one of my teammates (Richie) was a drummer. I told him about my music, singing, playing etc. and he told me he knew some really good musicians that he played with in Queens, NY.
A few weeks later he introduced me to a guitar player named Murray Shiffrin and a bass player, Bobby Rizzo. The four of us played together in one of the guys’ basements in Queens and seemed to hit it off. After playing a few times it was very clear just how good Murray and Bobby were. After one of the sessions, Murray and Bobby came up to me and suggested that I meet a drummer by the name of Mike Ratti. I did. He was incredible and so the beginning of Morgen was at hand. I had never really written hard rock music before, but playing with these guys inspired me to go to new musical places. We would jam my song ideas together and I would actually write stuff off of that. The very first jam, which turned into a song, was this really out there tune about the world being a very strange “Circus”. I thought it was good. They seemed to like it a lot and so we continued to play together. These guys were incredible musicians and the opportunity afforded me to jam my ideas with them and also to present new songs as well, was kind of like having a pallet with the paints being an INCREDIBLE lead guitarist, a really great drummer and a fine bass player who actually played 1st bass in a classical orchestra. Coincidentally, just around this time, a guy I knew in high school got in touch with me and introduced me to a manager by the name of Stuart Crane. The band played for Crane and he promptly signed us to a contract. At first I chose the band’s name to be Morgen’s Dreame Spectrum and we actually did our first professional interview and publicity photo spread for Hullabaloo Magazine as that. Turns out that Crane was friends with the magazine’s publisher, Gerald Rothberg. After signing with Crane we rehearsed and recorded in Skitch Henderson’s old studio on E. 57th St.
Who were the band’s major influences?
I really can’t speak to the bands major influences, but I can speak to those of individual members. Murray was heavily into Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend. I was very much into Dylan, the Stones, Donovan and others I will name if my memory holds up. I think Mike was into Ginger Baker and Keith Moon (and maybe Buddy Guy).
You performed some cover tunes. Which of these stand out in your mind?
Some of the cover tunes the band played, before doing only our stuff, were “Jumping Jack Flash” (Stones), “Four In The Morning” (Youngbloods), “Season of the Witch” (Donovan) etc. We led our sets off with Murray doing a montage of riffs on Hendrix, The Beatles, and I think maybe either Page or Beck.
“We did a gig at a fancy Hotel on Park Avenue and were actually introduced there by a guy named Ed Sullivan.”
Did Morgen play many gigs? What were some of the venues you played? Who were some of the artists you appeared with?
We played gigs all around New York City; Ondene’s by the 59th St., Bridge, The Electric Circus, Wednesdays, etc. If memory serves me correctly we did a gig at a fancy Hotel on Park Avenue and were actually introduced there by a guy named Ed Sullivan. At one of those gigs Joe Carlton, head of ABC Probe Records, saw us and decided to sign us immediately. Unreal! I don’t recall many of the artists we gigged with, but I remember we played the Fillmore East with Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys. We followed Iron Butterfly into the Bitter End and played there with David Ackles, I believe.
There were some issues involving your management and your recording contract. Would you explain to our readers what these issues were and the impact they had on the band? How were they resolved?
Management issues: Not a pleasant memory, as Mr. Crane’s fucked up antics caused us to lose our ABC contract. It was a full year before ABC decided to re-sign me. ABC told me the only way they would do so was if I was no longer involved with Crane. Fortunately for me, ABC chose to buy out my contract with Crane. Things had gotten so bad with Crane and the people he was involved with that it affected the band in a big way. At rehearsal the night before we were to open at Steve Paul’s Scene with John Hammond Junior, our engineer Jimmy Reeves ran into the rehearsal loft hysterically exclaiming that Crane and his people were going to do him in. It was a damning incident as Murray threw his Gibson across the floor sat down and said (to the best of my memory) “That’s it” I’m not gonna play music anymore”. I put a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder and did my best to calm him down. I told him not to worry, that I’d work things out. I promised Murray that things would be okay. I told the guys that we had come too far to let an asshole like Crane mess things up. Murray was still quite shaken and so I put my arm around him and told him that I would never let anything happen to him. I did not know at the time, but during a month I spent recovering from an injury, Crane tried to take my band away from me. He actually told Murray that he could be lead singer. At some point later on Murray let me know this. There actually were rehearsal sessions in the studio at E. 57th St. where Murray attempted to sing lead. This was a pretty heavy revelation and it also made it clear that Mike and Bobby were okay with it. Crane had Murray, Mike and Bobby record with Jay and the Americans on their “Best Hits” album. In retrospect I guess it was pretty obvious that Mike and Bobby figured playing with an already established hit band promised a lot more than playing with this guy Morgen. During this same time period, I told Crane that I wanted out. He told me in a meeting with one of his backers, who sat across from me with a gun sticking out beyond his lapel (shoulder holster I guess), that I could keep my music or my life. This memory is imprinted in my mind. I saw the gun, and I was scared. However, I walked up to Crane who was sitting on a throne, that he had installed in the living room of the townhouse above the 57th St. studio, in a pair of bikini underwear. I got up walked over to Crane and told him to go fuck himself. I said that we were the only band he had who were signed by major-label and that had actually brought money in. Let me digress a moment. When I saw the gun I got up and said I’m going to the bathroom. I ran down to the studio, called good friend of mine and told him where I was and that I might not survive the situation. I went back up and that’s when I dealt with Crane. I told him there was no way he was going to keep my music and I walked out, not knowing if I would make it out. I did. I believe that my comments regarding monies being brought into the studio from ABC may have mitigated the situation. My understanding, after the fact, was that Crane had taken a lot of the monies from his investors and spent it on drugs and partying. I also believe that the junior mafia guy sitting across from me who was a Brooklyn guy as was I, respected the fact that I showed no fear and stood up to Crane. I showed no fear on the outside, maybe.
You were the band’s major songwriter. What was the writing and arranging process within the band? Did anyone else in the band write?
I was the only writer for the band. As I explained before, in the beginning I would come up with song ideas and jam them with the band and as we continued to play together I would present whole songs to them. I believe all the songs on the album were already written and then played with the band. As with all bands, there were some conflicts about direction. A clear example of that was how the guitar solo in “Love” came about. We were in a studio somewhere on W. 42nd St. and I remember Murray going off in a direction that didn’t really fit. He wasn’t too happy about my not liking it, but I explained and then played the feel that I believed would be right for the solo. Murray capitulated, grudgingly, and it turned out to be great and the thing he is most remembered for. I don’t recall if he wanted to go jazz in his solo, but I do remember arguing with Murray, Mike and Bobby about whether or not to include a jazz interlude in the final mix. They really wanted to keep it in and so it stayed. I might note that “Streetwalker” which is included on the Sunbeam release was a lick that I came up with in my head as Murray and I were walking in the East Village. As we were walking, I started humming something (more like…da da da da da) and Murray goes whoh! What’s that? I just kept on humming. We jumped on the subway and shot up to my apartment on the West Side and put it down on a cassette player. We kicked ass with that song at the Fillmore.
“Meeting Hendrix and two of The Who was incredibly exciting.”
Where was the “Morgen” LP recorded? How long did the sessions last? Would you share some recollections from the sessions? How pleased were you with the finished product?
The actual recording that eventually became the album was done at Skitch Henderson’s old studio on E. 57th St. Believe it or not the studio only had a four track machine. The 3 story Town House that included the studio, had been purchased by the multi-millionaire hippie Deering Howe who had inherited the International Harvester fortune (lot of heavy partying- Yeah lot of Sex, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll). After signing with ABC Probe we remixed and added tracks in the ABC Studios on W. 57th St. in the Great Northern Hotel. The remixing and additions were done by an engineer from ABC (John…) and myself and I believe Murray as well. I think it was a 16 track studio. We were in studio A and one of my favorite singers at that time was recording in studio B, Cass Elliott of the Big Three and the Mamas and the Papas. One of my favorite memories recording at Skitch Henderson’s studio was at about 3:30 AM right after we kicked ass at Steve Paul’s scene (yeah the night right after the hysterical Jimmy Reeves entrance and a lead guitarist who said he was never going to touch a guitar again). In the audience that night, in the third row with a good-looking blonde on either arm was a guy who looked a lot like Jimi Hendrix. After the final set the girl I was hanging out with, Pam, ex-girlfriend of Peter Noone, brought a couple of guys over to meet us. They exclaimed they really thought we were something else. These two guys looked a lot like Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Meeting Hendrix and two of The Who was incredibly exciting. Although I must say Jimi appeared to be in a bit of a purple haze. Keith and John were really effusive in their praise and that was off the charts for me as well as the rest of the guys. I might note that up until I met Murray I didn’t know anything about the Who at all. Therefore, I always found it fascinating that people compared songs like “Eternity in Between” to the Who.
Anyway we headed over to the studio right after the gig and laid down “Welcome To The Void” just as we had played it Live at the Scene. We were super psyched. After we were already signed to ABC, Crane brought in a producer by the name of Tommy Kaye. This jerk, who successfully produced songs like “Yummy Yummy Yummy I Got Love in My Tummy,” tried to change everything I was doing. At one point he had me doing more than 20 retakes on one vocal. I couldn’t take it anymore and so I followed him out of the studio booth and put him up against the wall. I was about to rearrange his face when a guy named Teddy Ben Harri said “Steve you can’t do that…”
Teddy was a guy who lived in the townhouse. Teddy is also a guy who came up to me a few days after my life was threatened and said “Look Morgen you’re no Mick Jagger and you’re no Jim Morrison okay?, but after them you’re the best!” Teddy then proceeded to take me into his room. He opened up the drawer to a big dresser and took out something that I had seen once in the hands of Robert Stack as Elliott Ness on TV. Yeah, it was a Thompson submachine gun with a fully loaded round magazine. Teddy told me that nobody was ever going to touch me cause him and his baby would make sure of that. Twilight zone??? YEAH you might say! How pleased was I with the final product? Well, going through all the stuff mentioned above, I would say that I didn’t really achieve my best and of course some of the original tracks had two instruments on them and so proper separation always remained a problem. However, the fact that ABC was willing to put out my stuff on a major release kind of mitigated that.
How were the songs for the albums’ single “She’s The Nitetime” c/w “Of Dreams” selected? Did it garner much airplay or chart in any markets?
I wanted “She’s The Nitetime” to be our single and “Of Dreams” was chosen by ABC as the flipside. A year had gone by and so their enthusiasm was not quite as great as it once was. They still did a fairly good job of pushing the album out there; “fairly good job” being the operative phrase. We were immediately adopted by WNEW FM in New York. I was driving along the Cross Island Parkway listening to WNEW as I always did when one of the jockeys, Jonathan Schwartz, said there’s this new band I want you to hear. Their song well; what a way to paint a lady… And then “She’s the Nitetime” started to play. I couldn’t believe my ears; Wow! From that moment on WNEW played us all the time. Scott Muni played us in his mini concerts (3 songs at a time). The incredible thing about it was that the other two artists were almost always the Stones and Dylan and the other was The Beatles. Allison Steele, who I actually met, played us all the time. Pete Fornatale always complimented the band. John Zacherly actually hit some kind of echo repeat button one night and the band’s name Morgen, Morgen, Morgen…just kept on repeating just before one of our songs came on. All of the jockeys consistently played commented on and praised the band. I actually met Scott Muni a few years later at Max’s Kansas City. I got to see the introduction of a new player with Chick Corea; Stanley Clark. He was unreal. At the end of the set I walked up to Scott and said “I don’t think you’ll remember me, but my name is Steve Morgen and I’d like to thank you for all the airplay you gave to my record. He put his arm around me and said where the hell have you been? He asked if I was still playing and said that he sure hoped so and that my album and music was well ahead of its time. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t remember if it was before or after I met Scott, but I played at Max’s with a group of guys that included Ralph Shuckett (Tod Rundgren’s Utopia) on keyboards, Stu Woods on base, Richie Crooks (Deliverence) on drums (I also sang backup with Richie’s wife Joanna on an album for Buddha records) and Werner Fritching (Cactus) on lead guitar. Unbeknownst to me there was a videotape made of this performance. I believe I still have it somewhere.
The LP’s release was held up for quite some time. Why? When finally released, how much support did the label give the album? What affect did this delay have on the band and it’s morale? Was there any discussion of a second album?
A year had gone by and so their enthusiasm was not quite as great as it once was. They still did a fairly good job of pushing the album out there; “fairly good job” being the operative phrase. Our opening at the Bitter End was very positively reviewed in Billboard magazine. At some point in time I was contacted by a film producer who wanted to do a full feature-length documentary on me and the band. A few days before a scheduled meeting with Joe Carlton and the film producer at ABC records on 6th Avenue, I got a call from the film’s producer (I believe his name was Pete something) he told me that all systems were go, but that he required me to give him the rights to my publishing deal with ABC. I guess you can imagine what I told him…$%^#@* and after telling him that I asked him a simple question. I wanted to know who was financing the project. He told me I didn’t need to know that and right away memories of the people behind my contract with Stu Crane came to the fore. I asked him once again to let me know who was financing the film. He wouldn’t. I never showed up at the ABC meeting. I headed out to Colorado to be with a really neat lady.
How did critics receive the album? Did it break in any markets?
Morgen got some really excellent reviews. In Record World we were chosen as a Four-Star Album and in Variety Magazine, “Of Dreams” was chosen in the list of best singles along with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and perhaps “Born To Be Wild” (sure about “Bridge” not about “Born”). Our opening at the Bitter End was very positively reviewed in Billboard magazine. The album actually broke in 8 major cities including Atlanta and Boston. The world was ours if we wanted it, but the band was no longer the original, as Mike and Bobby were gone and Barry Stock the original rhythm guitarist was let go because of his heavy drug dependency. The enthusiasm I had with the album coming out a year late along with all we had been through had also waned a bit. Joe Carlton, President of ABC probe, had told me that of all the records he played for his kids including Soft Machine and Fat City etc. his kids liked us the best and that he had always believed in us. Joe Carlton offered a second album with ABC and he actually offered me my own publishing deal along with it. I know Joe was excited about the film project and I don’t remember in what order these things happened. Obviously I was very excited about both.
I have always been impressed by the bands’ musicianship, especially lead guitarist Murray Shiffren. Who were his influences? What type of gear did he use?
Murray played a Les Paul Jr. and his favorite was a limited edition Golden Gibson…As mentioned previously Murray was heavily into Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend.
You and Murray were dear friends and shared many magic musical moments. Would you describe your relationship with Murray and his tragic early demise? What was the dynamic between your songwriting and his playing?
Yeah Murray was something else. Who wouldn’t be impressed by him? The guy couldn’t read a note of music and yet out of 300 guitarists, auditioning for the Joffrey ballet, he was chosen. Murray and I were soul connected. The minute I come up with a song idea or played a song for him he would play it as if he already knew it. That always blew my mind. Murray played a Les Paul Jr. and his favorite was a limited edition Golden Gibson…
Murray and I deeply respected one another, but I guess like many lead guitarists and lead singers we were in conflict a lot of the time. I guess you could say that even though Murray told me that Crane wanted him to replace me as lead singer, the idea that he actually did try it before telling me haunted our relationship. But, you’re right he was a very special human being and when we finally got back together to jam in my New York apartment all that bad stuff we had gone through seemed to melt away. It felt so good that Murray and I definitely decided to get back together again and make another record. Murray was going to leave the Joffrey after his next tour and I was going to leave California for New York. One night in while in a restaurant called the Chatham in Westwood LA, I got a call from Murray’s girlfriend. I was excited to hear from her, but that was short lived as she told me that as they were wheeling Murray into the operating room he passed away. She asked me to please come back to New York to be with her and told me that Murray loved me very much. I was devastated. I actually put my fist through one of the restaurants walls. After that, I stopped playing music for a long time. You’re right Murray and I did have a very special relationship in spite of all the bad stuff we went through together. Like I said Murray was heavily into Hendrix, the Who, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. If you closed your eyes you wouldn’t know if it was Murray playing or those guys. If Murray played “Beck’s Boogie” for Jeff Beck, I think Beck would’ve hit the floor. To be honest, with all these guys as his heroes, I never really thought Murray would include me among them as an artist. However, during an ABC Promo session at ABC, we were all asked who our favorite musicians and writers were. When it came to Murray, I just wasn’t expecting to hear him say that I was his favorite writer. By the time Murray and I wound up in my apartment on West End Ave. to put “Streetwalker” down he and I had evolved into something unique. Like I said before I would play a song for Murray and he would play in and around it as though he knew it already. We were truly soul connected and I believe that we would have achieved great things together. I miss him to this day and I only wish I could’ve been there for him before he succumbed.
What was the band’s connection to Edvard Munch, and how did his famous work “The Scream” come to be used as the album’s cover art?
Edvard Munch is my favorite artist. I actually went to the Museum Of Modern Art to ask if they would allow me to use The Scream as the cover art for the album. At first the people I met with there were reticent, to say the least, to allow such a great work of art to be used as a rock album cover. I had an extensive knowledge of and deep interest in Munch’s work and by the time we finished talking they said they would be pleased to give their permission. They actually sent a letter to ABC complimenting me and confirming the meetings outcome. I took a motorcycle trip in 1972 that started in England, where I bought a 650 Triumph Motorcycle, and rode through Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and the island of Ibiza. While in Copenhagen I visited the Copenhagen zoo where Munch did his drawings for his Alpha Omega Cycle. The song, “Alpha Omega” on the Sunbeam CD was actually inspired by those drawings. While attending a Munch exhibit at the Museum Of Modern Art in the early 70’s, I realized that I actually had another soul connection. In a framed letter at the exhibit, Munch described what actually was happening to him as he walked with friends along a jetty in Norway. I was completely incredulous!!! He said that he had stopped and turned around as his friends continued walking. He then stated that he felt the great cry of nature as the sky began to bleed and the air began to scream. This was the first time I had ever read this letter. In the 1960’s, well before this occasion, I wrote the song “Purple” with the lyrics… “the sky is bleedin’ and the air starts to scream.”
Written in the day of toss off lyrics accompanied by overwrought guitar pyrotechnics, I have always thought your songs were a cut above, both musically and lyrically. Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
A1.”Welcome To The Void” (4:42)
You got me thinking here. “Welcome To The Void” is one of those songs that just popped right out of me; like a stream of consciousness. The lyrics reflect actual experiences as well as beliefs and ironies on and in the way I see the world. “Did you know that Peter Pan can fly, he just pats himself with dust. I’ll give you some if you’re a very good boy and if in me you put your trust”. This is actually derived from my childhood in Brooklyn. My sister Arlene had gone to see Mary Martin in the NBC studios live production of Peter Pan just around the corner from our home on 18th St. and Avenue N. She told me that she was going to give me some of the pixie dust that Peter Pan had and that I would soon be able to fly just like him. “Beauty did kiss the beast and then much to her surprise, a handsome prince did then appear and then the beast scratched out his eyes.” My fractured view on just who the beast actually was. “If you’re good and if you watch your ways one day to heaven you will go. You will lose everything you’ve ever known before who cares it’s better than below Ho ho ho ho”… My take on the false promises and meaninglessness of life.
A2.”Of Dreams” (5:32)
“Of Dreams” was a longing to be with someone magical who made the idea of being in love something fantastic; a kind soul who believed in goodness: “be kind to rabbits and have pity on mad hatters”.
A3.”Beggin’ You Pardon (Miss Joan)” (4:47)
“Beggin’ Your Pardon Miss Joan” was exactly that; a really good looking college girl friend who drove me up a wall. Okay so a little philosophy is included taken from John Donne’s “To His Coy Mistress”.
A4.”Eternity In Between” (4:30)
“Eternity In Between” was inspired by Joan Mio’s painting: ‘Dog Barking at the Moon’. It is also a reflection on the shortness of man’s lifespan; “I want to be a yellow sun”. I actually insisted on bringing a huge Liberty Bell type bell into the studio; tolling time.
“Purple” was perhaps my own imagined trip after attending a lecture by Timothy Leary while at college and before I actually experienced my own trip while in Ibiza some years later. “Candy colored flakes of orange tangerine may have been influenced by Tom Wolfe.
B2.”She’s The Nitetime” (3:28)
“She’s The Nitetime” is a love song, a reflection on love and desire perhaps.
“Love” is my take on needing, taking and giving only just so much to someone else. To be a bit more philosophical; questioning whether or not being in love is a simply a temporary reflection of an ephemeral desire.
There have been numerous reissues of “Morgen” most notably the 2013 LP and CD release on Sunbeam Records. What was the source of the bonus material included in the package? Are there any remaining unreleased tunes?
The bonus material on the Sunbeam CD all comes from a cassette that Murray and I recorded on little cassette machine in my West End Ave. apartment in New York City. The tunes that weren’t included are: “My Baby’s Good”, “ I Got the Blues”, “Long Way from Home”, “Mister”, “Dreamin”, and “Good Morning Christina”.
“Morgen” continues to be rated among the best American heavy psychedelic albums of the late 1960s. To what do you attribute the album continuing to be held in such high esteem among music collectors?
I am both happily surprised and humbled to know that the album is held in such high regard. Look, the musicians in the band were incredible players and I would imagine that wasn’t lost on anyone hearing the record. I also think the writing is pretty strong; the lyrics tend to paint pictures and pictures as you know are ‘worth a thousand words’. In retrospect I probably would have chosen to redo a number of my vocals. However, as you can see I had been on quite a roller coaster ride and so my perspective was a bit clouded. ABC bought what they liked and so it was kind of left at that.
Were you been involved in any musical endeavors following the dissolution of the band?
I was involved in many musical situations after Morgen. I jammed in my New York apartment with David Spinoza and he signed me to a contract. I recorded 2 tunes with David as producer; “Tango” and if my memory serves me correctly “Don’t You Tell My ‘Bout My Lover” the finalized version of the tune Murray and I jammed on the previously mentioned cassette tape. Life is funny. Turns out that David’s partner was Joey Levine, the guy who sang “Yummy Yummy Yummy I Got Love in My Tummy” produced by none other than the aforementioned face-job candidate; Tommy Kaye. In LA I put a band together with the players: Ray Colcord (Producer on Aerosmith’s 1st Platinum album) on keyboards, Kim Hagerty (brother of Julie Hagerty of “Airplane”) on guitar, a bass player whose name I don’t recall that Kim brought with him from Ohio. I don’t recall who the drummer was. We played some pretty neat tunes one of which I still hope to release at some point called “Move over Baby”. In the early 80’s in New York I produced and did some writing as well for two bands; The A Kings and the Beat Brigade. Both of these bands were quite good. They headlined in clubs around New York such as Heartbreak, The China Club, The Cat Club, and CBGB’s where I had developed a strong relationship with Hilly Kristal. Hilly listened to some of the tapes I produced when auditioning the bands. He liked them so well he asked me if I would do some work for him; production was wise. The Beat Brigade had a really good lead vocalist and a fairly mediocre band. After a while I hired studio musicians to play with them and produced some pretty good stuff. Unfortunately the lead singer, Carmine, got into cocaine and after a long period of babysitting him I moved on. The studio guys who I hired to play with Beat Brigade liked what I was doing and we formed a band together called Sway. We did a lot of good tunes and it looked like we were headed for good things. At some point while we were playing together, my father passed away and I took it pretty hard. I kind of played a ghost and disappeared again. The players were really awesome. Al Korosy was on lead guitar (there wasn’t anything he couldn’t play extremely well), Mark Feldman was on drums (a really strong player), on keyboards was a guy named Dave Belocchio and then there was a fine bass player named Randy who at times played a fretless bass. We actually recorded some really good stuff in Tony Bennett’s kids’ studio in New Jersey. There are some pretty good tapes of that stuff: “In the Middle of the Jungle” also titled “Shattered Dreams”, “Gotta Keep It Loaded”, “Françoise”, and “Down in the Street”. There are also a number of rehearsal tapes of tunes which included “Santa Anna”, “Who Are Your Heroes”, “Falling”, “Slip Away”, to name a few. Just recently, I’ve been in touch with Al Korosy and Mark Feldman; looks like we’ll be getting together again. Al’s going to be bringing his tapes of the stuff we did. Never stopped writing… Hope to get some of my stuff out there again.
Would you discuss some of your most memorable moments in Morgen and what made them so?
Playing Steve Paul’s scene. A number of great things happened there. They had a great soundman named Teddy and we were able to hear ourselves clearly and discover our sound. Kicking ass being on a bill with someone as good as John Hammond Junior. Getting to meet Jimi Hendrix and John and Keith from The Who. Playing the Fillmore East and getting a double encore. Murray chasing me around the Fillmore stage and shooting me with his guitar in staccato machine gun bursts. Mike Ratti jumping over his drum set to hug me after the encores. Hanging out with Murray in his apartment and watching him put together his own feedback gizmos. Hanging out with the band on the beach in Long Beach. Mike Ratti passing out after the first two songs we did live at the WBAI concert and me carrying him outside to get him some cold winter’ s air. Something about black beauties perhaps?!? Finding out that we were offered a recording contract with ABC probe.
Me playing the drums at the studio on E 57th St. at about 3:30 in the morning and having a guy come up to me and ask me if I was Morgen’s drummer. This guy had been in the booth earlier and listened to some of our mixes which he said he really liked a lot. His band, called the Hassles, had just been signed by Crane. His name was Billy Joel. Me coming into the recording booth after doing some vocals only to find a lady who I was crazy about sitting there exclaiming, while my music was playing, “why don’t you put on some black music man”; in a heavy French accent. Her name was Nico.
One night while playing Ondene’s switching instruments while playing “Hey Joe”: I played bass, Bobby played lead guitar and Murray sang lead. Going downtown from my E. 86th St. apartment to pick up a copy of Record World. Didn’t open up the magazine ‘til I got back to my apartment to find that we had a Four-Star Review with some pretty heavy praise for the band, my vocals and my lyrics. Hearing myself and the band on radio for the first time; being introduced by Jonathan Schwartz on WNEW FM. Getting pissed at Murray for always refusing to teach me how to play lead guitar. Hearing Scott Muni play Morgen in his mini concerts with my idols, Dylan and the Stones. Opening at the Bitter End and during our week there watching Murray gets stoned for the first time. At long last the release of the Album.
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and insights. Is there anything we failed to address in this interview that you would like to tell our readers? Do you have any parting thoughts?
Damn it Murray where’d you go
I gave up my guitar
I just couldn’t make the strings sing sweet
Not knowing where you are
I heard you met an angel
A little early don’t you think
Of all the chicks you had to choose
You were always so succinct
Remember when we caught on fire
You were locked into my soul
It’s like you were a ghost of mine
With no way to let go
Oh yeah you did your ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬ magic show
And melted notes and me
You made your fingers disappear
For everyone to see
We fed each other Murray
On some very precious dreams
There’s an empty place inside me now
And I cannot laugh or sing
Oh come on Murray play the blues
It’s so crazy don’t you know
Please turn a corner
Turn a phrase
Turn back…and play some more
Wish Morgen never stopped!
Thank you so much for taking the time to share the story of the incredible band that bore your name and recorded, arguably, one of, if not the best heavy psychedelic rock albums released in the United States in the late 1960s. It has truly been a pleasure to get to know you and to hear the story of the band and the album first hand. Please do keep me posted on any and all musical endeavors upon which you may journey. I am truly looking forward to the next chapter in the musical journey of Steve Morgen.
– Kevin Rathert